This past weekend I traveled through Madison, Wisconsin on my way home from Minnesota. I have been hoping to check out the yarn shops there for some time and finally had the opportunity.
The shops I was interested in visiting are all located on the south side of the city. They are not near the interstate, so I knew it would not be a quick on-off stop. There were three shops, so I decided it was worth the extra travel time.
Madison, Wisconsin is in the lower middle of the state. The 90-94 interstate which travels northwest (or southeast) edges the city on the east side. Coming from the north, my mapping program gave me the option of leaving the interstate north of the city to go around the west side, or staying on the interstate until I was south of the city and then driving back west to the shops. Both options offered similar travel time, so I decided to stay on the highway.
To get to the first shop, I had to travel through some significant road construction. The small two lane street was narrowed to one lane, with flaggers letting cars go one direction at a time. The drive to the third shop also involved traveling through a construction area, with all four lanes squished to one side.
The construction probably added time to my journey, but the roads needed work, and I’ve come to expect road construction wherever I travel in the summer. Unfortunately, one shop felt a strong negative impact from the construction and the clerk expressed concern as to whether the store would be able to remain in business. By this time next year, all the roads will be a joy to travel on.
The Knitting Tree
The first shop I visited was The Knitting Tree. The shop had beautiful shop samples and luscious yarn. Presently, they are featuring June Cashmere. They have a handful of projects constructed with the yarn, which made me very tempted to purchase some – I resisted.
There were other projects throughout the store – many of them designed by the store’s owner. I was invited to try on anything I liked – a nice feature that I’ve rarely encountered.
Online reviews complain that none of the yarn is priced and asking for prices can be uncomfortable. I saw very few prices on yarn, although I was not made to feel bad for asking. Maybe it helped that I knew to expect it.
What I did find as a negative, though, was that none of the store samples had information labels. When I shop, I like to note interesting patterns in my “favorites” on Ravelry. I asked about a few of the patterns, but that quickly got old. I looked up one of the patterns by the name I was given and could not find it on Ravelry at all. Other patterns were “free with a purchase” of yarn and I would guess they were not available for purchase separately.
One aspect I look for in a good yarn shop is a large number of sample items. If the samples are unlabeled or the patterns unavailable, however, the number is pointless. It’s hard to be inspired by items that are inaccessible.
Overall, I think I’d visit the shop again if I was in the area. I think I’d be more assertive in acquiring pattern names. The yarn, though, would be worth the stop.
Wisconsin Craft Market
I didn’t know what to expect when I headed to Wisconsin Craft Market. The website mentions craft supplies and yarn, but I was only interested in yarn.
The store is located on one end of a nearly deserted mall. From the outside it looked old. When I walked in, I wondered if I was entering a big box craft store or a dollar store. The store was a bit cluttered and all I saw were craft items. I wanted to give it a fair chance, though, so I wandered to the back where I found the yarn selection.
I was met by Rae, the friendly yarn department salesperson. She explained that the yarn was displayed by weight with bulky on one side, lace on the other and DK in the middle. Although I don’t usually use bulky yarn I started on that side. A couple aisles in, I was impressed by a full wall of Cascade 200 – every color available.
As I was looking at the colorful wall, Rae came around again. She explained that most of the end caps feature fingering weight yarn by indie dyers – including some of my favorites. She said that her boss makes a point of supporting local indie dyers. The store sold yarn from Leading Men Fiber Arts (Illinois), Brew City Yarns (Wisconsin), Three Irish Girls (Wisconsin), Destination Yarns (Ohio) and several other companies.
There was a large selection of yarn and the prices were good, too. I saw some sample items, but not as many as I’d like. Rae was friendly and helpful. Although the store didn’t have “atmosphere,” I would definitely go back when I am in Madison.
The Sow’s Ear
Whenever I had mentioned to other knitters that I was thinking about going to Madison, they asked if I was going to The Sow’s Ear. This store had atmosphere. The Sow’s Ear actually has two parts – a cafe and a yarn shop. Although I did not eat at the cafe, I definitely would, if I visited with a friend. It was a cute place, with indoor seating or outdoor patio seating.
The back half of the building contained the yarn shop. I walked in through the side entrance – I did not have to walk through the restaurant to get to the shop. The shop had a classroom, a relax-and-knit room, and three rooms of yarn. There was a small selection of roving and fleece for spinners.
Much of the yarn was new to me. I purchased a couple skeins of a fun Sugar Bush yarn and enough luxurious Ayni yarn to complete a shawl that was on display. There were many labeled store samples, so I could check the patterns on Ravelry.
The Sow’s Ear was located farther south than the others I visited. There are a couple more shops that are west of this one, so when I get a chance to check them out, I’ll probably try to fit in another visit to The Sow’s Ear.
There is one more shop that I visited in this area – although it was on an earlier trip. Knit Circus is about a mile from the Wisconsin Craft Market. It is a small shop stuffed with their own hand dyed yarn. I wrote about my visit to Knit Circus in this post.
Visiting Yarn Shops
I love stopping at yarn shops when I travel – especially on a long drive. If you know of yarn shops in the Midwest that you’d like me to visit and review, leave a comment below.